Sufjan Stevens is constantly pushing musical and thematic boundaries, and now he's gone fully out into the boondocks (or maybe the far reaches of the stratosphere) with his new electronic-instrumental album, Aporia.
The album streamed live on March 23rd at 3PM, and it's a 21-track collection of glitchy, meditative sonic journeys that also feel like journeys through space and time.
Most of the album comes from Stevens' jam sessions with Lowell Brams, his stepfather and business partner. "You know how it is with jamming, ninety percent of it is absolutely horrible, but if you're just lucky enough, ten percent is magic," Stevens told Pitchfork. "I just kept pulling out these little magical moments."
Stevens said the record is mostly about his relationship with Brams. It "tells a bigger story of stewardship and mentorship. He's been there since I was five," he said. "This record is a synthesis of all of that history."
The album is almost all instrumental, but in terms of song titles, things get a little out there. Not all the song titles require a dictionary or a PhD in humanities ("Climb That Mountain" is pretty self-explanatory), but many of them are references to Ancient Greek philosophy.
The first track on the album, "Ousia," most likely takes its name from the eponymous Greek philosophical term. "Ousia" was used by Plato and Aristotle to describe the philosophical concepts of "essence" or "substance"—essentially the "stuff" that makes up all things. In Christian philosophy, the term refers to "divine essence" specifically, and since we know that Sufjan songs are always either gay or about god, there's a good chance this song might be an ode to some sort of divine being.
"Palinodes" refers to a kind of poem wherein the author retracts or disavows something stated in a previous poem. "Ataraxia" is a fundamental tenet of Pyrrhonism and Stoicism, meaning "equanimity" or "tranquility" or freedom from struggle. Many Pyrrhonists believe it can only be brought about by another process—"Eudaimonia," the name of the 20th song on the album, which is a state of ultimate happiness and purpose.
The album's title, Aporia, means doubt, uncertainty, or puzzlement. So perhaps the whole album is about Sufjan and Lowell vacillating between Ancient Greek philosophies, trying to find their purposes among life's murkiness. Or maybe it has another meaning unique to Sufjan's mind, something connected to fatherhood and his absent mother and ancient Greek philosophy's ever-present patriarchal shadow over human thought.
Until we find purpose or make peace with the lack of it, we can all languish in Aporia and let the music wash away our confusion.